Party hopping in the UK, while Gaza casts its shadow on London

London Diary: This fortnight's instalment also features Monty Panesar's 'interesting' debut in politics and women's woes

Descendants of Holocaust survivors demonstrate, part of the Jewish Network for Palestine, on a London street corner against the Gaza genocide (photo courtesy @Mina696645851/X)
Descendants of Holocaust survivors demonstrate, part of the Jewish Network for Palestine, on a London street corner against the Gaza genocide (photo courtesy @Mina696645851/X)

Hasan Suroor

If it’s the season of Aaya Ram–Gaya Ram in Indian politics, with almost daily political defections, election-bound Britain is not doing too badly either on this front.

In recent weeks, two MPs belonging to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ruling Tory party have defected to the Labour party, as the latter appears set to win the coming general elections.

The latest to cross the floor is Natalie Elphicke, saying that the Tories “have become a byword for incompetence and division”.

She accused Sunak of “broken promises” and abandoning key pledges, especially on immigration. His government was “failing to keep our borders safe and secure”, with illegal migration touching “record levels”.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak's pondering his options? His Tory party seems set to lose the upcoming polls
British prime minister Rishi Sunak's pondering his options? His Tory party seems set to lose the upcoming polls
Getty Images

Yet not so long ago, she was accusing Labour of having “no plan of their own to tackle illegal immigration” while hailing Sunak’s controversial plan to deport illegal immigrants as “world-leading”.

Perhaps this is what political opportunism looks like.

Elphicke’s defection came barely weeks after another MP and former minister, Dan Poulter, left the party to join Labour. He said he was leaving in protest against the government’s “lack of focus” on public services, especially the National Health Service.

Dan Poulter, formerly of the Tories, now with Labour
Dan Poulter, formerly of the Tories, now with Labour
Getty Images

Labour leader Keir Starmer, meanwhile, is facing criticism for betraying the party’s values by admitting “unprincipled” right-wing Tories.

I beg your pardon? Politics and principles?

Gaza's shadow over London

The streets of London have become veritable battlegrounds for pro-Palestinian supporters and Jewish groups, with many of the capital’s 160,000 Jews claiming they no longer feel safe.

They have accused pro-Palestinian protesters of intimidating them by raising anti-Semitic slogans. Police are having a field day trying to maintain peace between rival groups, amid accusations that they are being 'soft' on alleged 'Palestinian provocateurs'.

The Tory party has launched a campaign against Scotland Yard, which is controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s administration.

Police commissioner Mark Rowley was forced to apologise after an incident in which Gideon Falter, the boss of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), was stopped by the police from approaching a noisy pro-Palestinian protest. He was advised to leave the scene as he was “openly Jewish” and his presence could be “provocative”.

However, Rowley rejected calls for his resignation and defended his force’s “professional” handling of the incident.

“A couple of turns of phrase were clumsy and offensive... and we’ve apologised for that. The wider actions and intent of the officer were professional and in the best tradition of British police trying to prevent disorder,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Gaza conflict looms large over the coming general elections with the Labour party’s “pro-Israel” stance eliciting mounting anger from Muslim voters in London and cities in northern England.

The issue has already cost the party dozens of seats in recent regional polls.

A grassroots Muslim vote campaign has given Labour leader Keir Starmer 18 demands to be met if he wants to win back the community’s support. These include an apology from Starmer for his stance and a promise to sever military ties with Israel.

The campaign said it would support only like-minded candidates in the general election. About 3.9 million people in Britain identify as Muslim.

Look out, Mr Starmer.

Monty Panesar’s botched-up political debut

Like many of his Indian peers, former English cricketer Monty Panesar has been on a political journey.

In 2016, he backed the Tory party’s Zac Goldsmith—brother of Jemima Goldsmith and former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan’s brother-in-law—for mayor of London. Goldsmith lost.

Eight years later, Panesar himself came close to joining frontline politics. He was to stand as a parliamentary candidate for the far-left demagogue George Galloway’s Workers Party. Galloway's staunch pro-Palestinian stance has made him popular in the predominantly Muslim areas of northern England.

However, the House of Commons just missed out on having another Indian-origin member on its benches, as after a number of gaffes, Panesar is reported to have opted out of the race. However, he is apparently in no hurry to quit politics altogether and will live to fight another day.

Panesar is the latest in a long line of English cricketers—including C.B. Fry, Robin Marlar and Ted Dexter—who joined politics with the aim of making it to Parliament, but failed.

Women's woes

Unhappy Indian women can take some comfort from the fact that British women are not wallowing in happiness either.

Research has found that they are ‘sadder and more stressed’ than their European counterparts.

An annual study of almost 80,000 women from 143 countries concluded that ‘negative emotions’ (worry, stress and anger) have risen among the women of UK since 2020, while falling across Europe.

And while women say they are not surprised by the statistics, feminist writer Claire Cohen wrote, ‘What does surprise me is that it’s not worse. Every woman I know feels this way to some extent—it’s why the well-being industry, geared towards self-care, has exploded.’

How about a similar study about Indian women?

And, finally, a woman was recently told by a government hospital staffer that, according to their records, she had been dead for four months — to which she replied, “I’m not; I’m still talking to you”.

Earlier instalments of the London Diary may be read here

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